Harrogate headteachers say they are “nervous” about this week’s return to school as covid testing and face masks are reintroduced to minimise disruption during an expected rise in infections.
Secondary school pupils will now have to wear masks in class as well as in communal areas to help tackle the spread of the Omicron variant.
All students will also be expected to take an on-site test and complete twice-weekly testing from home under rules reintroduced by the government in response to surging cases.
Neil Renton, headteacher at Harrogate Grammar School, said that although infections amongst staff and students were currently low, a rise was expected and this could lead to extra measures including entire year groups learning from home. He said:
“We have got seven staff who have tested positive, but this is not enough to significantly disrupt our provision.
“At this stage we are fine, but we are nervous and do have some trepidations about the term ahead.
“We had a point before Christmas where 30 staff members were off due to covid. We didn’t have to close year groups, but it was very tight.
“This is not new to us as for the past almost two years we have had significant disruptions.
“I’m confident we can continue to deal with this. Where I have a nervousness is if staff absences become so high we have to make a decision on whether it would be better to send a year group home.
“This is a decision I and many other headteachers may have to wrestle with in the coming weeks.”
Sylvia Brett, principal at Harrogate Ladies’ College, also said plans were in place to deal with any disruptions, including the recruitment of supply staff and combining classes. She said:
“We will do everything we possibly can to continue to deliver the high quality of education our pupils and families expect during these difficult times.”
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The return to school comes as there is a further push for staff and more young people to get vaccinated.
Latest figures show 77% of 16 to 17-year-olds and 58% of 12 to 15-year-olds in the Harrogate district have received vaccines which are being made available at sites including the Great Yorkshire Showground, Ripon Racecourse and local pharmacies.
Support to schools
After cancellations in 2020 and 2021, the government is currently planning for exams to go ahead as normal this summer.
Stuart Carlton, corporate director of children and young people’s services at North Yorkshire County Council, said support would be offered to schools throughout the year and that the top priority was to ensure all students receive face-to-face education “where possible”. He said:
“Being educated in the classroom, among their friends and with the support of teaching staff, is the best place for pupils.
“Schools have worked hard to ensure they remain safe places and to minimise the spread of the virus, with the support of the council.
“We have provided updated risk assessment templates with the latest government guidance for education settings in the county.
“Schools have access to public health colleagues for advice and we are providing support and guidance in other areas such as health and safety, human resources and property issues.”